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The war in Ukraine now has something in common with the Thirty Years’ War: the pope has offered to mediate. (I am speaking of “mediation” broadly here, in the sense of “acting as a go between”.) The papacy makes a likely mediator because it is not itself a political power. It made a lot more sense in 17th century Europe, of course, because the powers involved were all Western Christian ones. Today’s warring states are primarily secular, and their populations are predominantly Eastern Orthodox, making Pope Francis’s effort weaker from the beginning. Nevertheless, at a time when there are no other mediation efforts actively underway, I still see it as a positive sign.

Unfortunately, the pope’s attempt to bring peace seems to have run aground before it ever got well out to sea. Pope Francis reported on Friday (May 26) that Ukraine doesn’t want a mediator because it feels it is strong enough to win the war (Ansa). Zelenskyy refuses to consider any peace proposals that are not based on his own principles, including the restoration of Ukraine’s pre-war borders (Reuters). It is possible that peace may be concluded on such terms, but not with the war in anything like its current situation; not, indeed, as long as Russia continues to occupy parts of Ukraine and has little prospects of being pushed out. In short, both sides are convinced that they will win; neither judges the ongoing costs of the war in money and lives to be worth concessions; and therefore, there is no prospect even of beginning peace talks, much less concluding them successfully.

If Urban VIII and Innocent X were unable to do much to help end the Thirty Years’ War, it is not surprising that Pope Francis has not had any luck ending the Ukraine war. On the other hand, I would have thought he might have at least gotten some friendly words from the competing parties, whereas instead he has been rebuffed harshly. According to IAI, “the reactions from both Moscoy and Kyiv have been denial and irritation.” Ukraine, in particular, has been unwilling to accept papal mediation because of the pope’s previous statements implying that Russia started the war in response to NATO’s aggression. Moreover, 97 percent of Ukrainians believe they will win the war, and 74 percent believe they will retain all of their pre-war territories. (One wonders what polls would have shown about the warring parties at various points in the world wars.)

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